With its 59-16 blowout loss to No. 10 Oklahoma State, Baylor is off to its worst start since 1969.
That was the year of Neil Armstrong’s Moon walk and Woodstock, but to longtime Baylor fans that was the start of the dreadful Bill Beall era. The Bears went 0-10 that year, and they never recovered the next two years as Beall was fired after posting a 3-27 record, leading to Grant Teaff’s highly successful 21-year run beginning in 1972.
None of first-year coach Matt Rhule’s current Baylor players expect a similar run of bad seasons. But the Bears are going through growing pains with a young team that’s rebuilding after losing numerous players following the fallout of the sexual assault scandal that cost former Baylor coach Art Briles his job in 2016.
Rhule sees a team that’s still hungry despite its 0-6 record, and wants to start winning as it enters the second half of the season.
“I know they want to go back and play in front of their home crowd and play at homecoming,” Rhule said. “And I know they want to play Texas and Kansas and Iowa State and all the teams we have down the stretch. They’re not frontrunners. They’re not guys that just play hard because of the score when they’re winning. Anyone can do that. Those guys that represent Baylor, that sit in that locker room, they’re everything that’s right about our university and they’re fighting, fighting, fighting.”
After opening Big 12 play with the gauntlet of Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State, the second half of Baylor’s schedule begins with Saturday’s homecoming game against No. 23 West Virginia followed by another home date against Texas on Oct. 28. November includes dates against Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State and TCU.
Winning any of these games will be monumental for a team that hasn’t proven it can win yet. But the Baylor players say the locker room is still full of believers.
“We come to work every single day and we don’t think about that we’re 0-5 or 0-6,” said Baylor tight end Jordan Feuerbacher. “We think ‘Hey, let’s go 1-0 this week.’ I’ve been on teams that lose before, but I’ve never been on a team that has lost like this and comes back every single day hungrier than they were the day before. So I’d say morale is great, really.”
During their first five losses, the Bears had a shot to win in the fourth quarter. But that wasn’t the case against Oklahoma State as they trailed 45-16 at the end of the third quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium. The Cowboys added a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns for good measure, finishing off the win with backup quarterback Taylor Cornelius’ 40-yard touchdown run.
The Bears were outmanned by a talented Oklahoma State squad that ranks first in the nation in total offense with 610.7 yards per game and passing offense with 411.2 yards per game, and is second in scoring offense with 48.8 points.
The Cowboys rang up 747 yards and averaged 10.5 yards per play against the Bears. It wasn’t quite the school-record 807 yards that the Bears allowed in a 70-63 loss to West Virginia in 2012, but it was in the same ballpark.
Mason Rudolph showed why he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the country as he hit 19 of 31 for 459 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
James Washington showed why he’s a leading candidate for the Biletnikoff Award as he made six catches for 235 yards and a touchdown. Justice Hill perfectly complemented Oklahoma State’s lethal passing attack by rushing for 117 yards on just 14 carries, including an electrifying 79-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
The Cowboys’ array of offensive weapons was way too much for an inexperienced Baylor defense that started six freshmen and sophomores. But Rhule expects his squad to learn from its losses and come back stronger and better.
“None of us like this,” Rhule said. “But it’s what you do in these moments that define who you are. We’ll come back and we’ll remember all these things, and we’ll get better from them. There’s some times where you have a final score like that, and you feel like the kids and you’re frustrated. Our kids didn’t quit, they just got outplayed.”
The Bears never found any consistency in the passing game as quarterback Zach Smith hit just 11 of 28 passes for 127 yards and an interception with no touchdowns. Though Smith was sacked just once, the Cowboys delivered considerable pressure most of the day.
“They were playing sort of five DBs and playing off and saying, ‘Hey, we’re not going to let you throw the football,’” Rhule said. “Just a lot of miscues, balls thrown outside when it was inside, guys dropping a ball. We had three or four times in crucial situations where we ran the wrong route. Nothing new. “
One of Baylor’s few bright spots was a running game that found its wheels after struggling most of the season. With Terence Williams rushing for 95 yards on 10 carries, the Bears finished with 219 yards rushing. Freshman John Lovett rushed for 62 yards on 11 carries in the first half before going out with a toe injury.
Playing for the first time since injuring his knee in the season opener, JaMycal Hasty rushed for 15 yards on six carries. The Bears drove 75 yards on 12 plays for a touchdown following the opening kickoff with 57 yards coming on the ground.
“I think we just took what they gave us,” Rhule said. “I would like to be able to run the football. I think when you have great backs, you have to be able to run the football. And I thought our offensive line and tight ends did a nice job of creating holes. But the score got away from us where we couldn’t continue to stay in the running game.”
Though it’s no consolation to this year’s team, the Bears have historically never played well in Stillwater during the Big 12 era except for 2015 when they pulled off a 45-35 win.
In Robert Griffin III’s Heisman Trophy winning 2011 season, the Cowboys crushed the Bears, 59-24. In Baylor’s first Big 12 championship season in 2013, the Bears were on the wrong end of a 49-17 blowout. It was their only Big 12 loss that season.
Baylor is a long way from winning Big 12 championships now. But the Bears still believe they can start winning games as the second half of the season begins Saturday against West Virginia.
“We just have to get better, and that’s what we’ll work on doing,” Rhule said. “Those guys aren’t quitting. Those guys went out there and they fought. They competed and they fought and they hugged each other and they kept trying and trying and trying. I don’t think there’s any question about motivation.”